Black Lives Matter Book Club To Discuss Texas-Banned Novel


A Texas school board superintendent has banned this month's selection for the Black Lives Matter in Bloomington-Normal Book Club.

"Hope that makes you more eager to read The Hate U Give and come out and discuss it with us on Monday, Jan 29, at the Bloomington Public Library at 7 p.m.," said Marie-Susanne Langille, a Heartland Community College instructor and book club coordinator. 

The young adult novel, by author Angie Thomas, spent a remarkable 38 weeks at the top of the New York Times’ best-seller list this year and is currently being made into a feature film starring Amandla Stenberg. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and the 2009 shooting of Oscar Grant, the book was released in February to massive praise, including an unprecedented eight starred reviews.

But in the city of Katy, Texas, one parent was unimpressed by Thomas’s frank portrayal of her teenage characters — and Katy Independent School District superintendent Lance Hindt appears to have flouted his district’s own policies to pull the book from shelves. The complaint dates to November 6, 2017, at a board meeting for the district; in a recording on the district website, a man who identifies himself as Anthony Downs holds a copy of The Hate U Give and says, “I did read some of the pages. I read 13 pages, and was very appalled.”

The novel follows 16-year-old Starr Carter, who moves between the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death becomes a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family.

Downs’s complaint centers on the book’s discussion of drug use and explicit language — and in the video, the school board president can be heard promising that the district’s textbook review committee would look into the situation. Had they done so, a panel of educators and administrators would have been required to read and consider the novel in its entirety before determining whether to keep it in the collection — which, it’s worth noting, already includes plenty of books that contain frank depictions of drug use (Go Ask Alice, Crank), racism (Dear Martin, All American Boys), and sexuality (Two Boys Kissing, Looking for Alaska). But some time in the intervening two weeks, Hindt reportedly made the unilateral decision to skip the review process and ban the book district-wide.

“There’s a specific policy, and it’s clear that they did not follow it, that the superintendent made a unilateral decision,” said James LaRue, director of the American Library Association Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF). “The school board has great latitude and superintendents do as well, but skipping over your own policy is something for which they should be held accountable.”

According to LaRue, those concerns are shared by librarians in the Katy school district, 19 of whom signed a letter protesting Hindt’s decision to pull the book. But despite both internal pushback and an ongoing outcry on Twitter, where Thomas began tweeting about the ban last Thursday evening, no explanation from the superintendent’s office has been forthcoming. Hindt did not respond to multiple requests for comment, which sources within the district say has been par for the course internally as well. One employee said most teachers are “saddened” by both the censorship and the superintendent’s silent treatment.

“We feel that it’s just a missed opportunity for our students to be able to have an open discussion about something that is a reality — about something that many of our students and even our faculty face,” she said. “I bought the book on my own, and we’re trying to reach out to the superintendent just to start an open dialogue. We’re not trying to demean his decision, but start a conversation.”

It remains to be seen whether Hindt’s decision will stand in the face of both internal pressure and external challenges, including the looming possibility that it runs afoul of the First Amendment. As LaRue explained, “This has gone all the way up to the Supreme Court — you can’t remove a book just because you don’t like the perspective. And what we see in the [OIF] is that people use the excuse of vulgarity to suppress the ideas being talked about.”

In the meantime, however, the ban is still in place — at the expense of any teens who might have hoped to find Thomas’s book in any of the schools’ libraries. As of Monday morning, the libraries of all 25 of Katy Independent School District’s junior high or high schools had been stripped of their copies of The Hate U Give. And while booklovers on Twitter have mobilized to flood the area’s local public libraries with additional copies, they may not be able to keep up with demand; the waiting list for the next available copy in the Harris County Public Library system is currently ten-people deep.

Seven Named to Community Review Board

Ryan Denham & Charlie Schlenker        


Seven Bloomington residents—including several downtown and west-side leaders—have been picked for a new civilian board to advise the police chief.

The Bloomington City Council is expected to vote Oct. 23 on the first appointments to the Public Safety and Community Relations Board. The appointees chosen from 66 applicants are:

  • Robert Bosquez, serves with the West Bloomington Revitalization Project
  • Sally Rudolph, decades of public service in many roles including planning bodies and the McLean County League of Women Voters
  • Jeff Woodard, director of marketing and community relations at the McLean County Museum of History
  • Arthur Taylor, longtime civil rights activist
  • Jan Lancaster, owner of the Bistro in downtown Bloomington and a staunch ally of gay rights
  • William Bennett, City of Refuge Ministries pastor
  • Surena Fish, retired Wood Street resident who was active in recent years in a neighborhood campaign to stop disruptions at a business near Miller Park

“The city would like to wholeheartedly thank all of those who expressed interest in applying to serve in this capacity,” said city spokesperson Nora Dukowitz. “With 66 applications received, it was a challenging selection process. All applications will be kept on file for 24 months in case a vacancy should arise.”

The board’s creation in July capped a months-long lobbying effort by local organizations such as Black Lives Matter. That came in response to growing tensions in Bloomington between police and many members of the minority community, some of which were documented in a May report. Not In Our Town, YWCA McLean County, and the ACLU of Illinois joined Black Lives Matter in advocating for the board.

The mayoral appointees will advise the police chief and help settle disputes over complaints against Bloomington officers.


The Citiesscape Pt. 3: Normal Traffic Stop Data Shows Major Racial 'Inequities'

Data on traffic stops in eight Central Illinois cities show significant “inequities” in police treatment of motorists of different races and ethnic origins, according to Illinois State University’s “A Community Report on Intolerance, Segregation, Accessibility, Inclusion, Progress, and Improvement.”

The new report, requested by Not In Our Town: Bloomington-Normal, notes blacks are stopped more often and arrested more often than their share of the Bloomington-Normal population would suggest. Vehicles driven by blacks are searched more often, and yet drugs are more often found in vehicles of white drivers.

In their study of race and the local criminal justice system, the ISU team focused on disparities in traffic stops and incarceration in the McLean County Jail.  Normal had 19,637 traffic stops out of 72,836 for all eight cities examined. That was 27 percent of all documented stops in the Twin Cities, Champaign, Decatur, Peoria, Rockford, Springfield, and Urbana.

Using 2015 Illinois Traffic Stop Data from the Illinois Department of Transportation, students investigated whether disparities in this portion of the criminal justice system exist, specifically for Bloomington-Normal.  Normal police stop vehicles at a far higher rate than police in Springfield or Peoria – ISU student researchers stated “the pattern is quite stark.” Without taking into account severity of charge, blacks who are arrested spend more time in the jail.

traffic stop chart.jpg

“We find that vehicles with black drivers are far more likely to be searched, compared to those with white or Hispanic drivers,” researchers concluded. “This is true in Bloomington, Normal, and the six other cities; however, Normal has a much smaller portion of vehicles searched relative to their large number of stops.

“Though searched more often, vehicles driven by blacks are less likely to have drugs or drug paraphernalia. We find that blacks spend more time in the jail than whites or Hispanic individuals. We also find that men spend more time in the jail than women, regardless of whether the charge is a felony or a misdemeanor.”

The second highest number of traffic stops occurred in Springfield at 15,910. Bloomington Police Department recorded the third highest number, with 9,740 stops. The remaining cities in order from most to least stops are Rockford with 7,095, Champaign with 7,029; Decatur with 4,982; Peoria with 4,784; and Urbana, with 3,659. When Bloomington and Normal are combined, they accounted for 40 percent of all stops in the eight cities.

Since 1999, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (a branch of the U.S. Department of Justice) periodically has conducted the Police-Public Contact Survey to determine the nature of this contact and discrepancies in race, gender, citations, use of force, etc.  The Bureau distributes surveys to people aged 16 and older, and asks them to describe their most recent contact with law enforcement within the past 12 months.

The Bureau noted a nationwide decline from 2002-2008 in the total number of persons who had contact with police. However, for those who had contact with law enforcement there were still discrepancies between whites, blacks, and Latinos. The number of Latinos drivers stopped by police between 2002 and 2008 increased 28 percent, although there was no difference for white and black drivers during the same period.

 In 2008, blacks were more likely to have contact with law enforcement than whites, asians, Native Hawaiians, and other Pacific Islanders. The survey also inquires whether those stopped by law enforcement felt the police behaved appropriately: Blacks and Latinos were less likely than whites to feel this was true. Similarly, black drivers were less likely to feel there was a legitimate reason for police stopping them.

Blacks were significantly more likely to be searched during a traffic stop than Latino and white drivers, and police arrested blacks at a higher rate than whites during traffic stops. Although no comparison was made in relation to the percentage of searches that resulted in finding anything illegal, only one out of five people searched felt police had a legitimate reason to do so, across racial lines.

The Bureau also analyzed the use of force during traffic stops. Although in 2002 and 2005, whites were less likely than blacks and Latinos to experience the threat of force, the 2008 study indicated that only blacks were more likely to experience force. In addition to experiencing more frequent traffic stops, blacks also experienced more frisks and searches.

Racial disparity was found to be greater in frisks than in general searches; racial disparity frisks are contingent on a community’s racial composition, and a driver’s race does not correlate with the productivity of searches.

“Racial profiling in law enforcement is a problem due to racial stereotypes, reflecting the ‘legitimizing myths’ that perpetuate social dominance and hierarchies,” the ISU team stated. “. . . Officers were more likely to stop someone depending on location (i.e., if a black was in a predominately white area, or if a white person was in a predominately black area).”

After standardizing stop data for population size, the degree to which Normal ranked highest in traffic stops -- after accounting for population size, Normal’s frequency of stops is more than twice that of the other seven cities.

In Bloomington, Latinos are disproportionately more likely to be stopped, where in Normal, Latinos are disproportionately less likely to be stopped, given their share of the population.

It is uncommon for officers to request searches from motorists in Bloomington or Normal, and the likelihood of such requests does not seem vary by race or ethnicity. Of requests for searches, though, blacks drivers are far more likely to decline the request. In the end, however, black drivers are most likely to have a search conducted.

In Bloomington, white drivers had a 5.6 percent chance of a search being conducted, Latino drivers had a 8.6 percent chance, and black drivers had a 13.0 percent chance of a search. A similar pattern emerged in Normal: White drivers had a 1.0 percent chance of having a search conducted, Latino drivers a 2.2 percent chance, and blacks had a 3.4 percent chance of having a search conducted.

For all eight cities combined, white drivers had a 4.2 percent chance of being searched, Latino drivers a 6.1 percent chance, and black drivers had a 12.4 percent of being searched.

“Although there is a higher chance of being pulled over in Normal, there is greater likelihood of being searched in Bloomington,” ISU researchers reported.

In Bloomington, while white drivers had the lowest chance of their car being searched, they had the highest percent of being found in possession of drugs. In Normal, black drivers had the highest percent of being found in possession of drugs, followed by white drivers. Latino drivers showed the lowest percentage of drug possession in either city.

In both Bloomington and Normal, students found white drivers to have the highest percentage of drug paraphernalia possession, followed by black drivers, again, despite the higher rate of searches on vehicles driven by blacks.

ISU Study: Problems Persist in B/N, 'Less' Today With NIOTBN Help

This is Part 1 of a multi-part examination of Bloomington/Normal's challenges and successes in bridging social, economic, racial, and cultural concerns.

ISU's Frank Beck reviews conclusions of student researchers during a NIOTBN Steering Committee review of the study at Moses Montefiore Temple.

ISU's Frank Beck reviews conclusions of student researchers during a NIOTBN Steering Committee review of the study at Moses Montefiore Temple.

Key problems persist in the Twin Cities, according to a study by ISU students with the Stevenson Center for Economic and Community Development. But significant progress is being made, in part through efforts by NIOTBN and other local groups, "A Community Report on Intolerance, Segregation, Accessibility, Inclusion, Progress, and Improvement" concludes.

The Not In Our Town chapter in Bloomington-Normal recently asked two classes of students at Illinois State University to document intolerance, discrimination, segregation, disparities of access, and disparities in the criminal justice system in the twin cities. In this report, using archival material, secondary data, and primary data, the students examine these issues from the mid-1990s to the present. Not In Our Town also wanted to understand their position in the community and some strategies for future success, through an analysis of other organizations in the country similar to Not In Our Town.

The conclusion: “Bloomington-Normal was and is intolerant; discrimination did and does take place in this community; we are segregated. The community is also less of these things than it used to be and is less of these things than other places — thanks in part to the efforts of Not In Our Town.”

Interviews and focus groups document difficulties, progress, and hope for the future among community leaders, social service agencies, elected bodies, advocates, and law enforcement. Residents discuss systemic issues and the role of Not In Our Town in addressing them. Residents shared experiences of discrimination and intolerance from police, employers, and other community members. Some of the quotes drawn from the conversations “are powerful and are evidence of work yet to be done,” the study stressed.

Discrimination by law enforcement and a lack of access to quality food, health care, and employment are highlighted. Persons promoting racial equality, LGBTQ advocates, and residents provide ideas for future balance.

For example, data on traffic stops in eight Central Illinois cities and from the McLean County Detention Facility show inequities. Blacks are stopped more often and arrested more often than their share of the Bloomington-Normal population would predict. Vehicles driven by blacks are searched more often, yet drugs are more often found in vehicles of White drivers. Normal police stop vehicles at a far higher rate than police in the larger cities of Springfield or Peoria; the pattern is "quite stark." Without taking into account severity of charge, blacks that are arrested spend more time in the jail.

Bloomington-Normal is segregated, but far less than other Central Illinois communities, the students found. The index of dissimilarity for Bloomington-Normal shows that approximately 40 percent of black households need to change their residence in order to integrate each neighborhood to the same extent, across both cities. Since at least 1980, this number declined for Bloomington-Normal. Champaign, Decatur, Peoria, Rockford, Springfield, and Urbana experienced declines in their segregation too, but their values are still higher than Bloomington-Normal. We find that Springfield is the most segregated of these cities; the interaction index also shows Springfield to be the community where blackss are least likely to interact with a White person and vice versa.

One team of students mapped diversity in Bloomington-Normal against locations of health care facilities, tobacco and liquor stores, groceries with fresh produce, predatory lending establishments, banks, schools, and transit routes. There are disparities in access to these community attributes and the disparities differ by diversity of the neighborhood. In all, West Bloomington suffers from a lack of access to health care and fresh produce. Diverse neighborhoods have more access to fast food and convenient stores than they do quality grocers. Transit routes connect patrons to health care offices/facilities, banking, schools/community college, etc., but the costs in time are high. Predatory lending establishments are located on the community’s main routes, but proximate to economically disadvantaged populations.

The work of seven aspirational organizations from across the country is presented in the report. Based on the strengths of Not In Our Town, the Best Practices group identify characteristics of these model organizations that can further the local chapter’s efforts. From bylaws to organizational structure and activities, recommendations are made to increase participation, capacity, and credibility. Therefore, this project can help Not In Our Town identify its next steps.

“As community developers know, there is much to learn when we speak to one another about the state of affairs in our communities; not only can we better understand the situations our neighbors are experiencing, we can gather in collective action to work toward improvement and progress,” the study concludes. “This is the essence of Not In Our Town’s work and dedication.”

Unit 5 Can Help Race Relations

Normal officials hope McLean County Unit 5 can help improve race relations in the town.

City Manager Mark Peterson told a joint committee of town and school officials Tuesday he hopes the district will help the town push that effort, which it intensified this month with the publication of a study on how to improve Normal Police Department procedures.

"Most African-Americans went to school, for many years, with an African-American teacher who understood them as an individual," said Chemberly Cummings, the first black Normal City Council member and a committee member. "Now, we have teachers who are coming out of suburban or rural areas never ever seeing an African-American until they step foot into the classroom."

She said that dynamic can lead to a culture of mistrust between students and authority figures that follows students after they leave school.

"They're already developed a mindset about police long before they've come to this larger interaction with law enforcement," Cummings said, "It's both our responsibilities to make sure all of our children feel welcome. ... We can develop true diversity and inclusion plans, not just window dressing."

The district is "looking at the idea of how do we integrate diversity training" and working to make its staff and administrators as diverse as its student body, said Unit 5 Superintendent Mark Daniel.

He said he's seen the benefits of diversity training up close, through one of his daughters who was a student teacher for Chicago Public Schools.

"They went first to understand the community, then they went into the classrooms. ... She had no fear walking into a classroom or walking around Chicago."

"Because she had that kind of training, she looks through a different lens — I'm treating this (as), I see no color. I just see a student, I see a need, I see I'm there to be an adult who's there to assist.'"

Daniel said officials also need to consider "how are we going to bring people of color to our community."

That was part of a wide-ranging discussion as the committee met for the first time. Cummings, council member R.C. McBride and Peterson represented the town; board members Jim Hayek and Mike Trask joined Daniel for the district, which hosted the meeting.

The next meeting is expected to be in late November or early December at Uptown Station. The town will host.

The council and school board met there last month to discuss resurrecting the committee, which is intended to make both more stable and less susceptible to external obstacles like the state.

Both passed an agreement to hold quarterly meetings with two members of each body and annual meetings with all members.

NAACP, Town of Normal Partner for Civic Engagement Program

The Bloomington-Normal NAACP is partnering with the Town of Normal for the first Normal and NAACP Civics & Citizenship (NC²) program.

This will provide high school students (ages 13-18) the opportunity to come and learn about civic engagement in their community. There is no cost to participate. The mission is to spark dialogue between students and Town officials; this includes but is not limited to police and city council.

The program will take place on Saturday, Sept. 30; Saturday, Oct. 7; and Saturday, Oct. 14. Interest Forms will become available Monday, Aug. 28. Students must complete and submit Interest Form by Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2017.


On Saturday, Sept. 30, NAACP  will partner with the Children’s Discovery Museum to teach students that civic engagement is our duty. The students will participate in the World Wide Day of Play. On Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017, we will partner with the Normal Police Department to teach Civic Engagement is Our Right.

The students will learn how to build relationships with the police, engage with police during every interaction, a day in the life of a police officer, and the exploration of law enforcement as a career. This will be an interactive day filled with candid dialogue.


On Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017, NAACP will partner with the Town of Normal leadership to teach Civic Engagement is our responsibility. The students will have the opportunity to create their version of the Town of Normal 2040 Visioning Plan. The plan will be presented to some of the Town’s leadership. Every participant will receive recognition during the City Council meeting on Monday, Oct. 16, 2017.

This opportunity is open to all high school students in Unit 5. For more information,  contact Chemberly Cummings at chemberlycummings@gmail.com or (216) 570-0549.

Councilwoman: Words Alone Won't Combat Racism

Howard Packowitz



The first African-American elected to the Normal Town Council believes it will take a lot more than inspired rhetoric to end racial bias in the town.

The council this week received recommendations from a group of community leaders studying race relations and law enforcement.

Council member Chemberly Cummings, who was elected earlier this year, said Normal “can’t be a town of words, but a place of action.”

The issue, said Cummings, extends beyond the police department. She called for continuous vigilance to ensure everyone feels welcome in Normal.

“That we all feel safe, whether it’s from our neighbor or from our police. And, we have to all be willing to do the work,” said Cummings.

“Not to just be the words, but be the workers,” she added.

Committee members and one of the leaders of the local Black Lives Matter organization praised Normal City Manager Mark Peterson for acknowledging racial bias exists in the police department and generally all parts of the community, although he said it’s mainly on the subconscious level.

The committee, which met privately since January, is ready for public input, and recommends the town council form a community policing culture board.

Specific aspects of such a commission have yet to be determined, but Police Chief Rick Bleichner is participating in working out the details.

In Bloomington, Police Chief Brendan Heffner objected to creation of a civilian review board. Aldermen set up the board to improve community relations with police and to make sure the department follows proper procedures when investigating citizens’ complaints against officers.

Normal Manager Sees Mainly Subconscious Racism in Police Department

Howard Packowitz


The Normal Police Department is considered “ground zero” for eliminating racial bias in the town.

City Manager Mark Peterson said racism exists in all parts of the community, including the police department, even though he believes it mainly exists on a subconscious level.

Peterson made his remarks Monday night as a group of community leaders examining police and race relations submitted a report to the Normal Town Council.

“I see no evidence of conscious racism in the Normal Police Department, however, I’m also not so naive to state emphatically that conscious racism absolutely does not exist,” said Peterson.

Committee member Dontae Latson credited Peterson for motivating the group at its first meeting in January by acknowledging racism is a problem.

“And, we all about lost it because having been in this field for over 20-years, people don’t want to acknowledge the ugliness, right? And it’s my opinion that’s a part of what keeps us stuck where we are because youo can’t improve upon something you don’t want to acknowledge,” said Latson.

The committee’s work was done in private, but members are ready for public input, and they recommend the town council form a Community Policing Culture Board.

Its responsibilities have yet to be determined, but Latson said a big difference from Bloomington’s new civilian advisory board is that Normal’s police chief is actively participating in the discussions. Bloomington’s chief was opposed to creating a civilian board.


Whose Streets? Recounts Ferguson, Reverberates Amid Charlottesville

The tragedy and aftermath of the August 2014 police shooting of Ferguson, Mo., resident Michael Brown reverberated again through the American psyche last weekend in Charlottesville, Va., as a march by white supremacists ended in the vehicular homicide of Heather Heyer.

Whose Streets?, a provocative film about Ferguson, MO, coming to the Normal Theater August 25, 27, 31, and Sept. 2, co-sponsored with Not In Our Town.: Bloomington-Normal. A public discussion will accompany the film, with opportunity for interactive input. Captioning options should be provided for the hearing-impaired.

Told by the activists and leaders who live and breathe this movement for justice, Whose Streets? is an unflinching look at the Ferguson uprising. When unarmed teenager Michael Brown is killed by police and left lying in the street for hours, it marks a breaking point for the residents of St. Louis. Grief, long-standing racial tensions and renewed anger bring residents together to hold vigil and protest this latest tragedy.

Empowered parents, artists, and teachers from around the country come together as freedom fighters. As the national guard descends on Ferguson with military grade weaponry, these young community members become the torchbearers of a new resistance.

Whose Streets?, by filmmakers Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis, is "a powerful battle cry from a generation fighting, not for their civil rights, but for the right to live." McLean County YWCA director and NIOTBN ally Dontae Latson, a former grad student in the Baltimore area, noted "the pain and frustration in neglected or over-policed communities and how it is unfairly labeled as 'rioting and looting.'"

"If you live in these communities, you don't 'own' anything," Latson added, citing the suspicion and tensions that can develop between residents and retail businesses owned by interests from outside the community.

Bloomington Council Passes Community Relations Board Plan

During the Bloomington City Council meeting on Monday, July 24, the council passed (8-1) the ‘Public Safety and Community Relations Board’ (PSCRB) in front of a packed house of hundreds of supporters. The advocacy originated from grassroots activists and community organizations who worked tirelessly for this effort to come to fruition. Without them, none of this would have been possible.

The most vocal advocates of the ordinance was an alliance of community organizations convened by YWCA McLean County. The organizations include ACLU of Central Illinois, Black Lives Matter Bloomington-Normal, Bloomington Normal Branch of NAACP, Central Illinois Pride Health Center, Illinois People’s Action, McLean County League of Women Voters, Not in Our Town Bloomington-Normal and Prairie Pride Coalition.

“Police accountability and transparency is key to improved community relations,” said Ky Ajayi, Black Lives Matter representative. “The establishment of the PSCRB is an excellent step in that direction.”

With the passage of this ordinance, residents will have the opportunity to submit their complaint to the PSCRB, which will then be routed to the Bloomington Police Department, instead of filing directly with the department. The police department will still conduct complaint investigations as they always have, but with this board, a resident will be able to request a review by the PSCRB to ensure proper protocols were followed. In addition, the board will promote alternate avenues available to residents to make complaints, assist in clarifying and improving procedures related to complaints and assure access to these policies and procedures are open and transparent.

“The Bloomington-Normal branch of the NAACP is pleased to see the passage of this ordinance,” said Quincy Cummings, president of the local NAACP chapter. “The transparency provided by establishing this board will encourage more people to comfortably file complaints.”

Another important feature of the board is the ability to recommend changes to the police department. The PSCRB will be empowered to conduct community outreach and recommend necessary policy changes to improve police and community interactions. 

“The establishment of the board is a huge first step towards becoming a community in which police and residents can trust one another,” said D. Dontae Latson, CEO of YWCA McLean County. “We still have a lot of work to do—and this board is only the beginning—but we are committed to playing a role in the process of building and healing community relations.”

Throughout the city council’s public discussion on this issue, which took place over the course of several special sessions, countless stories and testimonies were shared by community members who have been directly impacted by what many describe as ‘disproportionate policing.’ Many cited a recent report by the Stevenson Center, which indicated that in Bloomington, black people are twice as likely to be pulled over by police; and once stopped, are over twice as likely to be searched compared to white people. These residents showed a unified and steadfast support for the creation of board to address these issues.

Citizen Review Board Nearing Critical Vote?

The Bloomington City Council is expected to vote Monday night on a proposed ordinance to create a civilian police oversight board, but its membership would not include convicted felons or police officers.

One of the hurdles for some aldermen has been whether to allow convicted felons to serve on the proposed board.

"I think I am not alone in saying that most of us on the council had many, many conversations across the community about this ordinance and how it needed to read and what its focus should be," Ward 6 Alderman Karen Schmidt said Thursday.

"A group of aldermen worked very hard to try and synthesize all of the ideas with the product that we have in front of us now," said Schmidt. "I also think most of us made some compromises on some things.

"But the heart of the ordinance is something I know a majority of us can support," she added. "It provides a structure for us to build a stronger police-citizen relationship. There are a lot of tools in it that focus on helping communication and education across the board."

An alliance of community organizations — including Not in Our Town, American Civil Liberties Union, NAACP, YWCA of McLean County, and Black Lives Matter Bloomington-Normal — has asked for a citizen review board for police. Some community activists also wanted to allow convicted felons to apply and to exclude anyone affiliated previously or currently with law enforcement.

"Essentially we came back to where we were kind of at to start with on those issues — that the felons are prohibited even if they're nonviolent felons and even if (their crimes) occurred 20 or 30 years ago, and no law enforcement officials," said Mayor Tari Renner.

Ky Ajayi, a member of the local BLM chapter, said he has mixed feelings about the revised ordinance.

"I will be glad if a review board is created." he said. "I will be disappointed that people who have been convicted of crimes in the past would not be eligible to be considered for membership on the review board."

If that happens, he said, "people who have served and paid their price to society for whatever mistakes they have made are not afforded full rights of citizenship.

"I think people who have been through the process can bring a unique perspective to the review process."

Police Chief Brendan Heffner previously said he is against felons serving on the board unless someone from law enforcement also is allowed to serve.

Ajayi said he would be pleased if the exclusion of city employees and anyone with current or former affiliation with a law enforcement agency is in the ordinance.

In May, a request by the local Black Lives Matter chapter to create a community board to review public complaints about interactions with Bloomington police officers gained community momentum. Not In Our Town: Bloomington-Normal (NIOTBN), YWCA McLean County, NAACP Bloomington-Normal and the Central Illinois chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union — supported Black Lives Matter Bloomington-Normal in calling for a civilian review board.

In a joint statement, the five groups said many residents, particularly people of color, lack confidence in the process for filing complaints about police officers and in investigations conducted solely by police.

Mayor Tari Renner pledged "a broader discussion about what the overall concerns are, what the issues are, what does our current process look like and what our options are." "One, obviously, is a review board and that certainly will be discussed,” Renner said.

"Black Lives Matter has shared some principles it would like to see shape the board, and hopefully at the committee-of-the-whole meeting the City Council will agree that these are good ideas and should form the basis for a board,” said Ajayi.

Few public complaints are formally submitted to Bloomington police, the groups related, but that fact may be misleading.

"We believe it is dangerous to assume that the low number of complaints filed against officers are a measure of public satisfaction, when it may instead be an indication of public distrust with our current complaint process," according to the groups' statement.

The organizations suggest that "in order to maintain public trust," the review board consist solely of volunteer members of the public to remain an impartial body.

The community groups also recommend expanding the avenues for filing complaints by allowing people to file them directly with the review board, with the city's human resources department or through the current process at the police department.

While the police department would investigate the complaints and make determinations, a review board could provide an avenue for people to appeal department findings they dispute, said the organizations' statement.

"We recommend that BPD make all investigative material related to the complaint available to (the review board)," the groups said.

The board could make nonbinding recommendations to the police chief or city manager to consider, according to the groups.

NIOT member Mike Matejka said people may feel more comfortable taking complaints to a review board, and the review process would be more productive than having people just raise these issues in public forums.

"People constantly voice complaints when we have these large public forums," said Matejka. “It's really not fair to the police because they can't answer an individual situation in front of a crowd."

In mid-June, an alliance of nine community organizations gathered on the steps of the McLean County Museum of History Friday to urge the Bloomington City Council to create an oversight board.

"We urge all council members to vote in favor of it," said Jenn Carrillo, YWCA mission impact director before introducing the representatives who spoke at the press conference. In addition to ACLU of Central Illinois, Black Lives Matter Bloomington-Normal, Bloomington-Normal Branch of the NAACP, Not in Our Town Bloomington-Normal and YWCA McLean County, Central Illinois Pride Health Center, Prairie Pride Coalition, Illinois People's Action, and the McLean County League of Women Voters joined in the effort.

But continued delays in bringing the plan to a vote elicited frustrations in early July

“We are disappointed this process has been delayed once more," NIOTBN member and YWCA Director Dontae Latson stated. "During the June Committee of the Whole session, we heard a majority of council members express support for the passage of the PSCRB ordinance. Council members had ample opportunity to ask questions, offer revisions and raise any outstanding issues with the ordinance during that session. We believed their concerns had been sufficiently addressed in the proposed revisions. The delay raises concern that an already vetted and modest ordinance may be weakened. We remain hopeful the city council will have the courage to vote and pass the PSCRB ordinance.”

ISU Police Facility Aimed at Victim Comfort

Lenore Sobota

Lee News Service

A stark, windowless room with bare walls and hard chairs might be an effective place for police to interview crime suspects, but it's not necessarily the best setting for talking to crime victims.

So when the Illinois State University Police Department was doing a significant remodeling of one part of its offices, Chief Aaron Woodruff decided to add a more comfortable room for those victim interviews.

“It's not a new concept. Other departments have done this,” Woodruff said. “It's been one of my wish list items.”

Although the room can be used for interviewing anyone making a police report, it is particularly intended to put victims of sexual assault and domestic violence at ease, Woodruff said.

“They're both the most severe form of trauma,” he said.

Gail Trimpe-Morrow, coordinator of sexual assault prevention and survivor services at ISU, said the new room is a huge improvement and provides “a space that feels safe and comfortable.”

She said she hopes it will help encourage more victims to come forward and report crimes.

The room formerly used was “pretty sparse” and made victims “feel like they were being interrogated,” Woodruff said.

The new, 12-by-7-foot room is carpeted and has a small couch, a few pillows, two chairs and an end table with a lamp.

One wall is decorated with a simple painting of tree silhouettes and red cardinals. Another wall has a “word cloud” with phrases such as “We believe you” and “We care” along with individual words such as "courage," "understanding" and "support."

“I think the signage is critically important. … The sign sets a supportive tone,” said Trimpe-Morrow.

Woodruff came up with the list of words and basic concept. ISU Printing Services took care of creating the graphics.

Martin's Home Furniture of Bloomington donated furniture for the room.

Interviewing victims “has come a long way,” said Woodruff. “We're more trauma-informed.”

Trimpe-Morrow said being “trauma-informed” means recognizing that trauma victims present themselves in different ways and their recall is different from others.

“The interviewer needs to take things slowly and be more supportive,” she said.

Woodruff said victims need to know “we're going to take them seriously,” and that's an important goal of the new room.

“It lets our campus community know that we do care and we are supportive of victims and survivors of sexual assault,” Woodruff said.

Another advantage of the new room is its location on the opposite side of the part of the department used for interviewing suspects, which makes it less likely that the victim and suspect will cross paths while at the police department,” he said.

BLM Meeting Airs Profiling Grievances

Kevin Barlow

The Pantagraph

Josh Lewis, an 11-year-old Bloomington Junior High School student, says he used to like police officers, participating in “Ice Cream with a Cop” events and talking to officers at school sporting events and activities.

But that all changed a few months back, he told a crowd of about 300 people at a public meeting Thursday at Mount Pisgah Baptist Church with Bloomington Police officials and hosted by Black Lives Matter Bloomington-Normal.

“One day, my ride picked me up and was confused when we got pulled over a couple of blocks from my house,” he said. “There was no way we had broken any traffic laws.

"The driver was worried about getting a ticket because he had left his wallet with his license at home," he said. "But the officer didn’t want to talk with him. He wanted to talk with me.

"I was nervous. I had heard about black people getting shot by police.”

Lewis said the officer informed him he was investigating a car theft in the area. The driver, according to Lewis, asked if he was going to get a ticket for driving without his license and was told that he wouldn’t.

“I was confused by this,” Lewis said. “I was relieved when he left.

"Then I got pissed when I realized what happened. Was the officer thinking I stole the car or knew something about it? I don’t even drive. But this was profiling. The driver was white and (the officer) didn’t say anything to him.”

Lewis was one of several members of the Black Lives Matter group who spoke at the meeting, detailing incidents where they felt they were unjustly treated by police because of their race.

Group member Ky Ajayi moderated the program.

“There is a lot of misunderstanding of who we are and what we stand for, and even though we are only 2 months old, we are already controversial,” he said. “There are folks out there who don’t know us, don’t like us and have decided they can’t work with us because we say ‘Black lives matter.’"

"Saying that shouldn’t be controversial. We should all be saying ‘Black lives matter’ because when we say that, we are lifting up a problem," he said.

"When people say ‘Save the whales,’ they aren’t advocating the destruction of all other sea life. A problem has been identified and a call to action is being sent.”

Bloomington Police Chief Brendan Heffner was allowed to make opening remarks for about five minutes. He was not permitted to comment on the stories that were told, but he was allowed to answer only "yes" or "no" to prepared questions asked by Ajayi.

“There are two sides to every story,” Heffner said after the meeting. “Obviously, tonight, I had no chance to respond and this was not a meeting for dialogue. But I heard it and if those things occurred, that’s not good, but I need information.”

Several issues were discussed, including the use of cameras in undisclosed, public areas of largely minority neighborhoods; the use of body cameras on officers; police training and oversight; and policies related to community police and "broken windows policing" (questioning anyone in the area when a crime is suspected).

Also discussed was a proposal to use a vacant but rehabilitated house owned Mid Central Community Action at 828 W. Jefferson St. for a police substation, which has drawn criticism from among west-side residents.

Under the plan up for a City Council vote next month, officers from every patrol shift could stop by the house to fill out reports, eat meals, take breaks and be out and about in the neighborhood.

“Personally, I am anti-police substation in my neighborhood,” said west-side resident Sonny Garcia. “Think about being in an abusive relationship: You get separated and then the abuser want to come back in.

"Until there is more training for police on race issues and a level of trust is established, I don’t think the substation is a good idea,” he said.

Camille: Crutcher/Rahami Contrasts Raise Serious Questions

Camille Taylor

WJBC Forum

Benjamin Crump, lawyer for the family of Terence Crutcher, a black man killed by police in Tulsa, Oklahoma, had the same question I had. He asked, “Why was an unarmed black man who had committed no crime and needed a helping hand killed, but the N.Y. bombing suspect Ahmad Khan Rahami wasn’t after engaging officers in a shootout and injuring an officer?”

I think that’s a great question! Think about the two situations. Mr. Crutcher’s car appeared to be stranded on the highway and video shows him holding his hands up as he’s approached by police, tazed by one officer, and shot dead by another. Even a man in a police helicopter labelled Mr. Crutcher a “bad dude” from up in the sky.

On the other hand, N.Y. police had a photo of Mr. Rahami, and after getting a tip found him sleeping in a doorway. Rahami pulled out a handgun, shot an officer, and took off running. He was shot multiple times during the chase, and is now recuperating in the hospital.

man is accused of planting multiple bombs and injuring 29 people. Mr. Crutcher is a black man, accused of nothing, but ends up being shot and killed. The answer to this question is at the root of the anger, frustration, and fear felt by many in our country, but particularly by African Americans.

have several black men in my life: my spouse, son, grandson, nephew, and great nephews. I love them all very much. It pains me that even though they’ve all had the “talk” about how a black man in America must be extra careful, friendly, cooperative with authority figures, patient, calm, and compliant, that it won’t do them any good if someone looks at them and just sees a “bad black dude!”

So, as we lament and wring our hands once again there is something we can do. The YWCA is hosting a Humanity Summit on November 17th in Memorial Hall at Illinois Wesleyan. Register by October 7 for a discount or by October 31 for the regular cost. The goal of the summit is to offer an opportunity “for our community to grapple with important questions of cultural and systemic oppression in the form of many “isms” and challenge each of us to grow to become allies in the struggle for justice.”

Some takeaways from the summit will be to better understand oppression and privilege and their human costs, as well as make a commitment to take meaningful action.

Jesse Hagopian Ties BLM Campaign to Education

Teacher and activist Jesse Hagopian will deliver a talk titled “Black Education Matters," 5 p.m. Friday, September 30, in the Old Main Room, Bone Student Center at Illinois State University.

The talk is free and open to the public.

Hagopian will discuss the role of U.S. education plays in maintaining institutional racism and the school-to-prison-pipeline for young black people. Pushing back against reformer’s work to “close the achievement gap,” Hagopian looks to the beginning of a new social movement for racial justice in the United States. Hagopian was featured by NBC News and PBS News Hour. He also served on a panel with Dian Ravitch in Seattle Ed 2010 Forum.

Named the 2013 “Secondary School Teacher of Year” from the Academy of Education Arts and Sciences, Hagopian is active in the Black Lives Matter movement. He teaches history and is the co-adviser to the Black Student Union at Seattle's Garfield High School—the site of the historic boycott of the MAP standardized test in 2013.

Hagopian is an associate editor for the social justice education publication, Rethinking Schools magazine, the Seattle Fellow for The Progressive magazine, and the editor of the book, More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing.

After giving a speech at the Martin Luther King Day rally in 2015, Hagopian was pepper sprayed by a Seattle police officer. He won a $100,000 settlement against the police, and used the money to found the "Black Education Matters Student Activist Award," which gives support and a cash award to students in the struggle against institutional racism.

The talk is sponsored by Illinois State’s School of Teaching and Learning, Department of Special Education, Department of History, Department of Educational Administration and Foundations, Department of English, Multi-Ethnic Cultural and Co-Curricular Programming Advisory Committee (MECCPAC) – A Dean of Students’ Diversity Initiative, The Chicago Teacher Education Pipeline, Center for Teaching, Learning and Technology, the Harold K. Sage Foundation, the Illinois State University Foundation, and the Office of the Provost.

The talk is also part of the University Speaker Series at Illinois State. The series seeks to bring innovative and enlightening speakers to the campus with the aim of providing the community with a platform to foster dialogue, cultivate enriching ideas, and continue an appreciation of learning as an active and lifelong process. All talks are free and open to the public.

Kelley: Is Black Lives Matter A Form of Racism?

Rev. Kelley Becker

Bloomington First Christian Church

When was the last time you felt really uncomfortable?


I’m not talking about physically uncomfortable like after eating Thanksgiving dinner. Or after spending the night in a bed that wasn’t made for you, your spouse, a few kids…and maybe even a pet or two.

I’m talking about the kind of uncomfortable you feel when you tell your mother in law how wonderful her meatloaf is and your child says,

“But dad, you said grandma’s meatloaf tastes like cardboard.”

Or at the family reunion when your sister’s new husband complains about labor unions to your uncle who has worked as a union electrician his entire life.

…That kind of uncomfortable. It kind of sucks the air out of the space and is usually accompanied by a split second of silence that feels like forever.

Today’s sermon topic has a way of making us feel that kind of uncomfortable.

We continue our sermon series, You Asked For It, with a question submitted by one of you, “Is the Black Lives Matter movement a form of racism?”

I will be honest, it has been an uncomfortable week for me. The more I prepared for this sermon, the more uncomfortable I became. I was uncomfortable because so many of the stories I was reading were so far outside my own experience that it was hard to wrap my brain around them. I was uncomfortable because many of the stories point to unjust systems and ways of being that have benefited me my entire life. I was uncomfortable because it is clear to me that many of our brothers and sisters who have black skin are in deep pain, are very angry and frustrated with systemic racism that continues to affect their lives every single day. And I was uncomfortable because the more I read, the more convinced I became that the narrative in the media about the Black Lives Matter movement is creating a smokescreen that is keeping us from fully addressing the real root of the pain and anger from which Black Lives Matter was born. That root is racism. Our country has a problem with racism…and sometimes when we try to talk about it, we get very uncomfortable; sometimes we get angry and defensive.

I remember being a store with my grandma when I was about 8. We were standing at the checkout and an African-American man got in line behind us. As he did, my grandma moved her purse from her side to in front of her and she clutched it tightly. I asked her why she was doing that. Even at 8 years old, I remember how uncomfortable my grandma looked as she very quietly explained that it is good and responsible to be sure you keep an eye on your belongings. Racism makes us uncomfortable.

Today we are going to talk about it though. I hope the result of talking about it here is that we will begin to listen to one another, growing to understand experiences different from our own.

Let’s start with the text Sue read for us. Did this story make you feel uncomfortable? In the story, the woman, a Gentile, hearing that Jesus was traveling around healing people, appealed to him to heal her demon possessed daughter. She bowed at his feet as she begged him to help.

Now, what would you think Jesus might to say to this distraught mother?

I thought of a number of things he might say…all of them filled with compassion, care, and concern.

He said none of them.

Instead, he said, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”

Jesus’ answer was in the form of a metaphor. The children in this metaphor are the children of Israel, the Jewish people. The dogs were anyone who was not Jewish, the Gentiles. Basically, what Jesus was saying was, “My ministry is to people like me, Jewish people.”

That makes me uncomfortable. That is not the kind of thing the Jesus I follow would say. The Jesus I follow was the one who told the story about the Good Samaritan. The question the story answered was, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus’ answer, “Everyone.”

The Jesus I follow forgave the Samaritan woman at the well; healed lepers, ate with tax collectors, and challenged religious leaders who cared more about law than love. The Jesus in this story slurred a woman who begged him to help her child, comparing her, not to a beloved pet who is a member of the family, but to a semi-wild scavenger, an outsider, who would eat unclean food. 

I am uncomfortable with that.

While I am uncomfortable with it, I can certainly relate to it. We live in a world where name calling is not uncommon. We live in a world where we separate ourselves from people who are different from us. We live in a world where we fear “the other” will take what is ours. This fear is what keeps racism alive. Racism is so much more than name calling. It is embedded deeply into the fabric of this nation and the Black Lives Matter movement is a response to that reality.

The fact is, in this country, life is easier if you have white skin than if you have dark skin. I am not saying that white skin guarantees a person an easy life. That is not the case. Sadly, people of all skin colors experience poverty, violence, family disruption, and negative encounters with the criminal justice system. However, in our country, people with black skin are more likely to experience these things and experience them to a greater extent. This is a fact.

And that fact means that systemic racism exists in this country. That makes us uncomfortable though…because I think we want to believe the best about our country. We want to believe that all people, regardless of the color of their skin, have the same opportunities to succeed, to contribute, to have the things they need, and to be safe. That is not what many, many black people have experienced.

At a Not in Our Town meeting a few months ago, I heard the stories of black students, in our community, who have been discouraged from taking college prep classes in high school while their white peers, with the same or lower grade point averages, have been automatically placed in those classes. That is racism. I have seen studies that show employers are more likely to hire a white person with a criminal record than a Black person without one, and much more likely to follow up on a resume with a “white-sounding” name than an identical resume with a “Black-sounding” name. That is racism.

And we have heard so many stories of black people in our country who fear encounters with our criminal justice system, including law enforcement officers. Sadly, there seems to be a reason for that fear. It is racism.

And just because I have not experienced these things or you have not experienced them, does not mean our black neighbors have not. We must listen to them when they share from their pain, anger, and frustration.

In this congregation, we have heard Jim and Sharon Warren’s stories about the differences between how their children with light skin are treated versus their children with black skin. This week, I read the story of another parent with a similar family make up. She asked me, the reader, a number of questions:

Do store personnel follow your children when they are picking out their Gatorade flavors?

Do coffee shop employees interrogate your children about the credit card they are using while you are using the restroom?

Do your kids get treated one way when they are standing alone but treated completely different when you walk up?

Do the shoe sales people ask if your kids’ feet are clean?

To all of these questions, and many others, this mother says, “My black children are treated differently than my white children.” We need to listen and believe this mother and every other parent who shares these stories.

 We need to listen to her and others as they have joined voices to say, “Black Lives Matter.”

And that may make us uncomfortable. Some of us might be tempted to respond by saying, “All Lives Matter.” Please don’t.

The Black Lives Matter movement is not “only Black Lives Matter.”

It is Black Lives Matter too.

The movement is about the experiences of black people. It is about black parents fearing for their child’s life when he walks out the front door. It is about black people not having the same opportunities white people have. It is about injustice. Let’s face it, in this country, white people have always mattered…just ask the Native Americans.

Let me say it this way (in the words of Reddit user, GeekAesthete):

Imagine that you're a teenager sitting down to dinner with your family, and while everyone else gets a serving of the meal, you don't get any. So you say, "I should get my fair share." And as a direct response to this, your dad corrects you, saying, "Everyone should get their fair share." Now, that's a wonderful sentiment — Indeed, everyone should, and that was kind of your point in the first place: that you should be a part of everyone, and you should get your fair share also. However, dad's comment just dismissed you and didn't solve the problem that you still haven't gotten any!

The problem is that the statement "I should get my fair share" had an implicit "too" at the end: "I should get my fair share, too, just like everyone else." But your dad's response treated your statement as though you meant "only I should get my fair share," which clearly was not your intention. As a result, his statement that "everyone should get their fair share," while true, only served to ignore the problem you were trying to point out.

Just like asking dad for your fair share, the phrase "black lives matter" also has an implicit "too" at the end: It's saying that black lives should also matter. But responding to this by saying "all lives matter" is willfully going back to ignoring the problem. It's a way of dismissing the statement by falsely suggesting that it means "only black lives matter," when that is obviously not the case. And so saying "all lives matter" as a direct response to "black lives matter" is essentially saying that we should just go back to ignoring the problem.

First Christian Church member Camille Taylor, in her recent WJBC forum, titled Which Lives Matter? said it this way:

“The leaders of this movement already know that all lives matter, but from the beginning, they wanted attention drawn to a disturbing pattern of reports of the over use of force toward black people. They want to end systemic racism across institutions, but particularly in the criminal justice system.”

The Black Lives Matter movement is not a racist movement. It is a justice movement. It is a justice movement that calls all of us to work together to end racism in this country. We must stop being distracted by semantics which serves as a smoke screen, keeping us from engaging the real problem. We cannot word smith the problem away. The problem is racism and it affects real people, with real lives, real families, and real fear about the future.

Semantics is not the only thing keeping us from engaging racism. The media’s portrayal of the Black Lives Matter movement as inherently violent and destructive distracts us from the real work of Black Lives Matter. Violence and the destruction of property are never okay. It’s important to remember, though, that Black Lives Matter is not the first justice movement that has struggled with the actions of individuals within the movement.

In fact, this week I ran across a letter, written to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963. The letter was signed by a group of clergy. Here is an excerpt:

“…we are now confronted by a series of demonstrations by some of our Negro citizens, directed and led in part by outsiders. We recognize the natural impatience of people who feel that their hopes are slow in being realized. But we are convinced that these demonstrations are unwise and untimely…”

Just as we formerly pointed out that “hatred and violence have no sanction in our religious and political traditions,” we also point out that such actions as incite to hatred and violence, however technically peaceful those actions may be, have not contributed to the resolution of our local problems. We do not believe that these days of new hope are days when extreme measures are justified in Birmingham.

The problem then was not the protests. The problem now is not the protests. The problem is racism.

Other smoke screens include, pointing out that crimes among members of the black community exist in abundance, however the existence and prevalence of “black on black” crime does not change the fact that people with black skin do not have the same opportunities or receive the same treatment as people with white skin. And yes, those black lives matter, too.

Stories about barbeques and ice cream with police officers promote positive interaction between law enforcement and black citizens, but do not solve the problem of systemic racism.

The phrase Blue Lives Matter, adopted by some people to draw attention to the contentious environment law enforcement is working within, is another smokescreen. Yes, the lives of the brave men and women who protect our communities matter. However, it is important to remember that, in our world, policemen have position and power that black citizens do not have.

I identified one more smoke screen this week. As I read parts of the platform adopted by the Black Lives Matter movement, “A Vision for Black Lives”, I was disappointed that leaders entered into the political realm of U.S. foreign policy and views regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In my opinion, they created their own smoke screen that distracts from what I understand as their primary message. The problem is still racism.

Despite the negativity that has surrounded The Black Lives Matter movement. Participants have done some important things.

Students on college campuses have rallied to draw attention to racial issues that have plagued their campuses. At the University of Missouri, a protest led to the resignation of the university’s president who failed to institute and enforce policies that discourage racism. On the campuses of Harvard, Brown, Yale and others faculty have taken a deeper look at racial history as it relates to student life. For example, on Georgetown’s campus, administrators renamed buildings that once honored slave owners.

Black Lives Matters activists protested the Confederate flag and have encouraged legislators to act on its removal from public spaces. Much needed attention has been drawn to the school to prison pipeline that exists for black people.

There are many more good and important things happening because of this movement for justice. And we are invited to be part of it.

I know this has been an uncomfortable message for some of you. I hope you will come and talk to me if something I have said has upset you. I want to listen to you as you have patiently listened to me. Know that above everything else, I want us to follow Jesus together. So let’s go back for a minute to where we left our scripture passage.

Following Jesus’ initial derogatory answer to the woman, she responded with, “…even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

Jesus, my child matters too.

Jesus’ response was to heal the girl. One scholar I read this week urges us to think of this story, not as a miracle of healing story, but as a miracle of overcoming prejudice and boundaries that separate people. For the initial hearers and readers of this story, this exchange points toward a future in which Gentiles would be included in God’s kingdom. For us, I believe it points us toward a future when we will not have to explain that, of course all lives matter…of course they do. That is the foundation of everything I believe about God. We are all created in God’s image. Every one of us bears God’s likeness.

Right now though, it is the stories of our black neighbors that we need to listen to and believe. We can show them we have heard them by standing together, by lifting our voices with theirs, demanding and working toward justice for everyone because Black Lives Matter today and every day.


Block Party Survey Aims Toward Better Policing on the Block

As Bloomington residents partied on the block last weekend, volunteers at the 18th annual West Side Block Party canvassed celebrants on the best ways to better the beat.

At Saturday’s block party in the Bloomington First Christian Church parking lot, McLean County YWCA mission impact director Jenn Carrillo and her team surveyed Twin Cities on police-community relations and public attitudes toward law enforcement, as part of a larger YWCA/Not In Our Town: Bloomington/Normal project.

While locally, “we’ve been very good at responding when events happen,” Carrillo stressed continued need for a proactive approach in exploring “what work needs to be done so we aren’t ‘that incident’ on the news.”

“As you know, there’s been a lot of very publicized violence in the (national) news, and we want to figure out the patterns, the attitudes here in Bloomington-Normal,” she related. “We’re asking folks very neutral questions – basically giving them an opening to talk about experiences they’ve had with law enforcement here.

“Our hope is to get a lot more of these surveys filled out -- this is just kind of our dry run to see how people respond to questions. Once we have some good information, we plan to sit down with heads of law enforcement, share our results, and talk about some solutions we can collaborate on. I think it all starts with community policing, and the only way to have community policing is to have the community involved in defining exactly what that looks like.”

Rather than offer surveys online, Carrillo hopes to continue having volunteers share one-on-one, “face-to-face time with community members.”

The block party has over the years provided a range of community services, this year alone including distribution of 1,066 free school kits as well as school-approved free dental checks and dental supplies for low-income and other local children. Guests also had the opportunity to visit with representatives of community organizations, Unit 5 and District 87 school district officials, and emergency responders.

“We have shown though actions, through words, through relationships, that we want to be good neighbors, that we want to be more than ‘that church on the corner’ that people come to once a year to get school supplies,” related First Christian Associate Minister Kelley Becker, leader of NIOTBN’s Faith and Outreach effort. “We care more than about pencils – we care about their lives.”

Camille: What Lives Matter?

Camille Taylor

WJBC Forum

Which lives matter most of all to you? If you are a parent or grandparent it could be your children, grandchildren, or spouse. If you are a child, it is likely your parents.

For most people it is usually their family and/or the people that are closest to them. There has been a lot of controversy around the Black Lives Matter movement, and here is my understanding of what their goals are.

The movement started shortly after the Trayvon Martin murder in which the 17 year old was shot as he walked back to his father’s home from the store with an iced tea and skittles. He was wearing a hoodie and George Zimmerman, who shot him, didn’t think he looked like he “belonged in that neighborhood.” Zimmerman was acquitted after using Florida’s “stand your ground law.”

Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi, and Patrisse Cullors are three of the founders of the movement who wanted to speak out against what they felt were repeated unjust actions by officers of the state across the country. They wanted to be a voice against not only the shootings, but police officers who were never charged with crimes and those that were acquitted.

Repeatedly the victims of these shootings were black, and the police officers were white. The phrase “black lives matter” is an affirmation and a commitment to the attention and work that needs to be done on behalf of black people who have been profiled and consequently killed due to an initial reaction to their skin color. The leaders of this movement already know that “all lives matter,” but from the beginning they wanted the attention drawn to what has become a disturbing pattern of repeated reports of the over use of force towards black people.

The phrases “Blue lives matter” and “All lives matter” emerged in response to “Black lives matter” as if to say why is the focus only on black lives? The founders of the movement explain that they are giving a call to action for the black liberation movement. They want to end systemic racism across institutions, but particularly in the criminal justice system.

The solution to whose lives matter is not a mystery. A person’s life is precious thing. If everyone respected one another and followed the “Golden Rule,” I wouldn’t be writing this forum. However, even deeper than that, until our country acknowledges that we have systemic racism within our institutions, we will not be able to deal with the root of the problem facing our nation. 

Jim: Love All Into Unity

Rev. James Warren

Bloomington First Christian Church

As a father of 10 culturally diverse children, the senior pastor of First Christian drew upon his unique experiences to offer a message of love and unity at NIOTBN's July 11 vigil for the victims of Minnesota, Louisiana, and Dallas.

              Good evening, and welcome to this prayer vigil.  I truly thank each of you for being here and for being committed to making our community better, stronger, and ever more united.

                Let me tell you how I’m feeling tonight.  I’m tired.  I’m just plain tired.  Aren’t you?  Every few days we hear of another tragic event.  Young black men killed in Baton Rouge and Minneapolis.  Police officers shot in Dallas.  How long has all of this been going on?  I can’t remember.  It feels like forever.  Certainly much too long.  And I’m tired of it.  How many more have to die?  How many more prayer vigils will we have to hold?  How long will this go on?  I’m tired of it.  Kelley Becker, our Associate Pastor, preached last Sunday and articulated for me what I’m feeling, and what many of you are feeling.  I’m just plain tired.  Aren’t you?  Something has to change.

                Let me begin by telling you a little something about myself, specifically about my family.  I do this not because my family is anything special, but because of the formative impact my wife and children have had on me and my life.  My wife and I have ten children.  Whenever I tell someone that, I immediately learn something about that person.  Almost everyone will look at me wide-eyed and say with a hint of sympathetic weariness something like, “Oh my.”  But if the person is Roman Catholic, she’ll undoubtedly say, “God bless you.”


                My wife and I have ten children.  Our oldest two children are birth children.  Then we adopted a girl from India and another from China.  Next came two African American boys from Chicago.  Our youngest four were born in Ethiopia: twins who are eleven and two girls who are ten.

                You see, my wife and I have not been disinterested outside observers of the role race plays in our country.  We’ve been in the midst of it.  However, I don’t for a minute pretend to understand the complex issue of race in America.  I’ve lived a privileged life because of my race, and I know it.  But I’ve seen what my children have endured.  My wife shared some of our family’s experiences at a recent Black Lives Matter forum.  Inasmuch as I can, I’ve witnessed the ongoing, pervasive, and negative role race plays in our country.

                I start this evening with my family because I believe that’s where we must begin.  Change must begin with our families, with those who are closest to us, with our friends and neighbors.  Only as change occurs in these intimate circles can real change affect our nation.

                Let me share with you something that Katherine, our oldest daughter, wrote on Facebook today.  She was responding to a long-time friend’s post about his family and ours.  Katherine was born in India, is twenty-four, just received a graduate degree, and is in her first real, full-time job.  I feel like shouting, “Praise the Lord!” when I say that!  She did her master’s project on the difference between how white students and African American students are treated at a large university that proudly declares itself to be inclusive.  In her Facebook post she writes about us, her family.  Her friend, whose family also adopted a girl from India, was reflecting on what he learned in his transracial family.  Let me emphasize that I’m sharing this with you not because my wife and I are somehow remarkable, but because the message our daughter took to heart while growing up is one many of us are attempting to pass on to our children.

                Katherine writes:

I am thankful that parents like yours and mine raised us in such a way that different skin colors were seen as nothing but beautiful. The way our families instilled in us the love of God and taught us how to share that love with others was one of the many gifts we were given. It amazes me [notice her word choice: amazes] that some people are threatened by those who look different from them, and yet people like us so naturally embrace others who appear to be different. In our world, families do not have to look like one another in order to love each other. I have seen how people like you and my brothers willingly loved little brown girls and were proud to declare these little girls your sisters.  I guess we have our parents to thank for that.  We can thank our parents for being good people: honorable and tender role models of equality and love. Your family is beautiful, and mine is, too.

I am so proud of Katherine.  I am so proud of the woman she’s become.  I want to emphasize it was not just our family who taught her to value and love others.  You were a part of it, too.  She learned these lessons right here in Bloomington.  She grew up here and went to Bloomington schools: Sheridan Elementary, Bloomington Junior High, and Bloomington High School.  You made a difference in her life.

When you and I come to treat our children, all children, our neighbors next door, our neighbors across town, and our neighbors on the other side of the world, with the love Katherine experienced in her family and community, we will come closer to the unity you and I long for.

                Our job, first and foremost, is to love others, regardless of who that other person may be.  Jesus’ teaching, which I’m sure is very similar to teachings in all of the religious traditions represented here tonight, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” should guide us in all of our relationships.

                My eighteen-year-old son has a tattoo that says, quoting Martin Luther King, Jr., “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”  May we be the light and love our world needs.

                Of course, none of this will be easy.  The roots of our country’s racism go back centuries to the arrival of the first European colonists, their disregard for the indigenous peoples, and their enslavement of Africans in pursuit of wealth.  We aren’t going to remedy racism and find a new way to be in a month or a year, nor maybe even in our lifetime.  It’s taken us centuries to get here; it will take a very long time to get from here to where we need to be

And we’re tired, tired of struggling for peace and justice while more and more good people are killed.  Every time we’ve come together after another tragedy, we’ve done so with great resolve and the best of intentions.  “We’ll do something about racism this time,” we tell ourselves.  We leave these gatherings determined to make our society different.  But what happens?  We get busy.  We have jobs and families.  We go to school and volunteer to help others.  We struggle with the everyday tasks of living.  Before we know it, we’ve lost our passion and put our resolve on hold.  “We’ll get to it tomorrow.”  And nothing happens: the promised tomorrow never comes.  Everything goes on just the way it always has.

                We have to awaken from our lethargy and do something sooner rather than later.  We have to do something now.  If we don’t, more young black men will die senselessly.  More courageous police officers will be shot down mercilessly.  We can’t, we just can’t, let this continue.  Let’s make a difference.  Let’s make a difference now!

                One observer of the racial tensions that exist in our country likens our contemporary situation to a broken mirror.  The mirror has been broken and has shattered into a thousand different pieces that now litter our nation.  Those pieces continue to reflect an image, but it’s a partial and fractured image.  It’s impossible to see what the image may be.  To heal the brokenness of race that lies in these splintered pieces, we have to pick up all of those pieces, one piece at a time, and reassemble our mirror, so that it may reflect an image of wholeness and healing.

                Pick up the fragments of peace and justice that lie at your feet.  Love those closest to you, and love them into loving others.  Love those who are different from you, perhaps even your enemies, and love them into the unity that is ours as sisters and brothers.  Amen

Pamela: Support and Understanding

Pamela Sweetwood

WJBC Forum

I recorded this on Friday after two incidents of black men dying after police encounters and a group of police ambushed at a protest.   Information is still coming out, a lot is unknown, and that will be the case for some time to come.   There is no guess as to what this will develop into.

Sadly it is not a new or infrequent place for our country to be in.

My wish is that people can be sensitive to all.   Those of us that are white cannot fully understanding the continuous judgment, assumptions, and scrutiny many minorities experience on a regular basis.  We need to be supportive and understanding rather than have this tear the fabric of our country further apart.   To do so, is not to be against the police.  It is not mutually exclusive.

The police have a hard job which is compounded when particular members act in a questionable manner.   In addition to that, add in the perpetual threat of terrorism.  My heart goes out to them and what anger they must face and how impossible their jobs may seem some days.

We need to grieve lives lost, grieve for their families and friends.  The pain is severe.   We all lose when tragedy like this occurs.  So many lives, futures, and families forever effected.

It has been comforting to me to hear on the news those that appreciate the concern, understand the tragedy, and are committed to a fair, thorough response which doesn’t pick sides but rather handles matters with integrity.    This week I personally was impressed with the Mayor of Baton Rouge, the Director of the FBI, and several community leaders from the areas affected.   Instead of dividing us by race or political party, they provide me hope that we can indeed come out of this as a better society.    We need to be.

Pamela Sweetwood was an ISU student, like many, who never left town. She works in higher education and has a history with many community non-profits organizations.